Photo Essays: The Human Cost of Drug Policies in the Americas

Across Latin America, the effects of disproportionate punishment for low-level, non-violent drug offenses are particularly severe for women. To shed light on this issue, WOLA has created a series of photo essays to show the human cost of current drug policies in the Americas. The essays tell the stories of six women, each providing a unique insight into the deeply troubling cycle of poverty, low-level involvement, imprisonment, and recidivism into which women are too often pushed.
Punished for Being Poor

Punished for Being Poor

Bolivian law allows children under six to live with their mothers in prison. The San Sebastian prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia contains stores, food stands, and workshops.Name: Nayeli* Age: 28 years old Crime: Transporting 3...

Life After Prison

Life After Prison

“J”, 28, is a single mother of six. She agreed to carry drugs into a prison to feed her family, but changed her mind at the last second and gave the drugs to prison guards. She was arrested and sentenced to over five years...

Caught in a Vicious Cycle

Caught in a Vicious Cycle

Drug trafficking organizations often take advantage of women’s poverty and need to provide for their families, inducing women to carry illegal drugs across international borders. Drug “couriers” put their lives in serious danger...

Failed by the System

Failed by the System

Sara, 50, fled her family at age 13 to escape sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle. With no education or opportunities, she became drug dependent and worked in the sex trade, and was eventually arrested for selling small...

Mother Behind Bars

Mother Behind Bars

Lidieth, a 45-year-old mother of four, says she was arrested for selling small quantities of crack and cocaine from her home in order to feed her family. Two of her adult children were implicated in the household business and...

How Would it be if We Had Opportunities?

How Would it be if We Had Opportunities?

Johana, an incarcerated woman from Colombia, tells how poverty and a need to support her children led her to sell drugs. For her, imprisonment only worsened her situation.Sentence: 6 years, 4 months for a drug offense. Johana is...

I Am Not a Criminal

I Am Not a Criminal

Ángela, 24 years old and mother of three, tells the story of the abuse she suffered from a young age, and how she became involved in the drug trade.Sentence: 6 years for bringing drugs into a prison. Ángela is 24 years old, a...

Kidnapped and Coerced

Kidnapped and Coerced

Many women who end up transporting drugs are co-opted by networks that use similar methods to those employed in human trafficking crimes. That is what happened to Liliana, a Venezuelan woman with two children who agreed to...